Cooking With Donna Leon
Oline Cogdill
Before my close friend Doreen and her family went to Europe last year, I wished them a very happy, safe trip and asked them to send me a postcard or two.

Since her trip had a stop in Venice, I added some weight to her luggage. I also gave her several copies of Donna Leon’s lovely novels about Venice’s Commissario Guido Brunetti to get her in the vacation mood – as if she had to be prompted for that – and a copy of the tour guide Brunetti’s Venice, written by Toni Sepeda, a professor of literature and art history in Northern Italy who for years has conducted tours of Venetian sites visited by Leon’s hero Commissario Guido Brunetti.

Brunetti’s Venice (Grove Press, $16.95). features description and history of the actual place mentioned in excerpts from Leon’s novels.

This year, I would probably give Doreen, who is an excellent cook, a copy of Brunetti’s Cookbook featuring recipes by Roberta Pianaro and culinary stories by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24.95). Her birthday is coming up.

Brunetti’s Cookbook is more than a lovely cookbook filled with more than 90 Italian recipes and whimsical color illustrations. It also is a tour of Venice, with Leon’s original essays on food and life in Venice.

Leon talks about sumptuous meals with family and friends, about fish stalls, wine shops, and restaurants, including one that was briefly Chinese.

But she also talks about how fast food has invaded. “…when you come out of Il Fornaio with your fresh-baked bread, you are greeted by the smell coming from McDonald’s.” There also are excerpts from Leon’s novels that fit certain recipes.

Recipes are concise and easy to understand with clear instructions. No nutritional information is included, but these are clearly made for those who love to eat and want to put calorie counting on hold. (Hey, you think I only review mysteries? I also have reviewed cookbooks for more than 20 years.)

While the recipes are easy to follow, most are not quick dishes. But patience is clearly rewarded.

Fusilli With Green Olives is a lovely, savory side dish as is Penne Rigate With Beans and Bacon, which comes together with a minimum of time. Chicken Breast With Artichokes is an elegant dish. Almond Cake makes a sweet ending.

On second thought, I am keeping this cookbook. Doreen needs another pair of earrings for her birthday.
Admin
2010-07-21 11:59:17
Before my close friend Doreen and her family went to Europe last year, I wished them a very happy, safe trip and asked them to send me a postcard or two.

Since her trip had a stop in Venice, I added some weight to her luggage. I also gave her several copies of Donna Leon’s lovely novels about Venice’s Commissario Guido Brunetti to get her in the vacation mood – as if she had to be prompted for that – and a copy of the tour guide Brunetti’s Venice, written by Toni Sepeda, a professor of literature and art history in Northern Italy who for years has conducted tours of Venetian sites visited by Leon’s hero Commissario Guido Brunetti.

Brunetti’s Venice (Grove Press, $16.95). features description and history of the actual place mentioned in excerpts from Leon’s novels.

This year, I would probably give Doreen, who is an excellent cook, a copy of Brunetti’s Cookbook featuring recipes by Roberta Pianaro and culinary stories by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24.95). Her birthday is coming up.

Brunetti’s Cookbook is more than a lovely cookbook filled with more than 90 Italian recipes and whimsical color illustrations. It also is a tour of Venice, with Leon’s original essays on food and life in Venice.

Leon talks about sumptuous meals with family and friends, about fish stalls, wine shops, and restaurants, including one that was briefly Chinese.

But she also talks about how fast food has invaded. “…when you come out of Il Fornaio with your fresh-baked bread, you are greeted by the smell coming from McDonald’s.” There also are excerpts from Leon’s novels that fit certain recipes.

Recipes are concise and easy to understand with clear instructions. No nutritional information is included, but these are clearly made for those who love to eat and want to put calorie counting on hold. (Hey, you think I only review mysteries? I also have reviewed cookbooks for more than 20 years.)

While the recipes are easy to follow, most are not quick dishes. But patience is clearly rewarded.

Fusilli With Green Olives is a lovely, savory side dish as is Penne Rigate With Beans and Bacon, which comes together with a minimum of time. Chicken Breast With Artichokes is an elegant dish. Almond Cake makes a sweet ending.

On second thought, I am keeping this cookbook. Doreen needs another pair of earrings for her birthday.
Jake Lassiter Is Back
Oline Cogdill
I remember Jake Lassiter with a lot of fondness.

Jake wasn’t the brightest lawyer to work out of Miami. And he often let his awkward ways with women get the best of him.
Lassiter had a smart-mouth and a self-deprecating personality that did him few favors.

But you could never call Lassiter insincere.

He worked hard for his clients, even when they didn’t return the favor. He knew the law.

He knew his way around the Miami court system, and when to avoid the courthouse steps during the daily cleanup to remove chicken parts and goats’ heads used in Santeria rituals. Ahh, those only in South Florida moments.

And he knew Miami, though sometimes he would get lost in Little Havana because numbered streets were renamed to honor heroes favored by the city commission.

In the hands of author Paul Levine, Lassiter, a Miami Dolphins linebacker turned hard-nosed lawyer, helped launch the current wave of Florida mysteries.

It seems like just yesterday – not 20 years ago – that Levine started the Lassiter series with 1990’s To Speak for the Dead.

It also seems like just yesterday – not 20 years ago – that I started reviewing mystery fiction, and one of the first ones I tackled was To Speak for the Dead. (For the record, I liked it.)

Levine, a former newspaper reporter, law professor and a trial lawyer, published seven Jake Lassiter novels during the 1990s, putting the series on hiatus in 1997.

The series earned Levine the John D. MacDonald Florida Fiction Award. To Speak for the Dead was named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year by the Los Angeles Times.

Jake Lassiter has returned this month – in more ways than one.

To mark the 20th anniversary of his first novel, Levine has put To Speak for the Dead out as an e-book on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords for anyone with a non-Kindle e-reader.

That’s hardly a revoluntionary idea, with many authors now going that route.

But Levine is giving ALL proceeds of the To Speak for the Dead e-book to the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports treatment and research at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

“I’ve lost three people to cancer in the last few years, one of them the 14-year-old daughter of my best friend, so this is a cause close to my heart,” said Levine.

The Four Diamonds Fund was started by the parents of 14-year-old Chris Millard, a writer of childhood mythic tales, “Sir Millard and the Four Diamonds,” who died of cancer. A portion of one of his stories is on the website.

To Speak for the Dead, which was translated into 15 languages and adapted into an NBC movie in 1995, also has a special significance to Levine.

“The book is meaningful to me, too,” he said. “It got me out of the courtroom. Or at least, out of trying cases. I still visit courtrooms for pleasure and research — but not yet as a defendant.”

All seven Lassiter novels will be published as e-books in the next year.

And Levine is going to bring back the series with the new hardcover novel Lassiter, set for publication during September 2011 by Bantam.

After his series, Levine moved from South Florida to Los Angeles, where he still lives. He wrote 20 episodes of the CBS military drama JAG, and co-created the Supreme Court show First Monday, starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna. He also has written two stand-alone thrillers including last year’s Illegal, plus the four-book Solomon vs. Lord series.

It will be fun to have Jake back again.
Admin
2010-07-14 00:00:00
I remember Jake Lassiter with a lot of fondness.

Jake wasn’t the brightest lawyer to work out of Miami. And he often let his awkward ways with women get the best of him.
Lassiter had a smart-mouth and a self-deprecating personality that did him few favors.

But you could never call Lassiter insincere.

He worked hard for his clients, even when they didn’t return the favor. He knew the law.

He knew his way around the Miami court system, and when to avoid the courthouse steps during the daily cleanup to remove chicken parts and goats’ heads used in Santeria rituals. Ahh, those only in South Florida moments.

And he knew Miami, though sometimes he would get lost in Little Havana because numbered streets were renamed to honor heroes favored by the city commission.

In the hands of author Paul Levine, Lassiter, a Miami Dolphins linebacker turned hard-nosed lawyer, helped launch the current wave of Florida mysteries.

It seems like just yesterday – not 20 years ago – that Levine started the Lassiter series with 1990’s To Speak for the Dead.

It also seems like just yesterday – not 20 years ago – that I started reviewing mystery fiction, and one of the first ones I tackled was To Speak for the Dead. (For the record, I liked it.)

Levine, a former newspaper reporter, law professor and a trial lawyer, published seven Jake Lassiter novels during the 1990s, putting the series on hiatus in 1997.

The series earned Levine the John D. MacDonald Florida Fiction Award. To Speak for the Dead was named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year by the Los Angeles Times.

Jake Lassiter has returned this month – in more ways than one.

To mark the 20th anniversary of his first novel, Levine has put To Speak for the Dead out as an e-book on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords for anyone with a non-Kindle e-reader.

That’s hardly a revoluntionary idea, with many authors now going that route.

But Levine is giving ALL proceeds of the To Speak for the Dead e-book to the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports treatment and research at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

“I’ve lost three people to cancer in the last few years, one of them the 14-year-old daughter of my best friend, so this is a cause close to my heart,” said Levine.

The Four Diamonds Fund was started by the parents of 14-year-old Chris Millard, a writer of childhood mythic tales, “Sir Millard and the Four Diamonds,” who died of cancer. A portion of one of his stories is on the website.

To Speak for the Dead, which was translated into 15 languages and adapted into an NBC movie in 1995, also has a special significance to Levine.

“The book is meaningful to me, too,” he said. “It got me out of the courtroom. Or at least, out of trying cases. I still visit courtrooms for pleasure and research — but not yet as a defendant.”

All seven Lassiter novels will be published as e-books in the next year.

And Levine is going to bring back the series with the new hardcover novel Lassiter, set for publication during September 2011 by Bantam.

After his series, Levine moved from South Florida to Los Angeles, where he still lives. He wrote 20 episodes of the CBS military drama JAG, and co-created the Supreme Court show First Monday, starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna. He also has written two stand-alone thrillers including last year’s Illegal, plus the four-book Solomon vs. Lord series.

It will be fun to have Jake back again.
Martha Grimes
Oline Cogdill
Since 1981, Martha Grimes have taken readers to London and the idyllic British village of Long Piddleton with Scotland Yard Inspector Richard Jury and his aristocratic friend Melrose Plant.

The Black Cat is the 22nd in the Jury series and, like the others, the title is named after a real British pub.

So what could be more appropriate on this Fourth of July that recognizes this country’s independence but to mention an American-born author who writes British mysteries? As a dual purpose, this also recognizes that Britain is now our closest ally.

And here’s a few things you may not know about Grimes:

She began her writing career as a poet but switched to mystery writing because her poems were always filled with mysterious strangers, murders, and unexplained violence. She also won the “Best Poem” competition at the University of Iowa’s Poetry workshop on a bet by a friend.

In addition to 22 Jury novels, Grimes also has written nine other novels. The next novel she is planning will be in her Emma Graham series, a follow-up to Belle Ruin.

Grimes keeps her professional life in the family. Her only son, Kent Holland, also is her publicist. Married and divorced in the 1960s, she never remarried.

Outside of the United States, Grimes’ novels are most popular in Germany and also sell quite well in France. But Grimes said she has no idea why. “I really don’t know the answer, I wish I could,” she told me via e-mail.
Admin
2010-07-02 12:09:53
Since 1981, Martha Grimes have taken readers to London and the idyllic British village of Long Piddleton with Scotland Yard Inspector Richard Jury and his aristocratic friend Melrose Plant.

The Black Cat is the 22nd in the Jury series and, like the others, the title is named after a real British pub.

So what could be more appropriate on this Fourth of July that recognizes this country’s independence but to mention an American-born author who writes British mysteries? As a dual purpose, this also recognizes that Britain is now our closest ally.

And here’s a few things you may not know about Grimes:

She began her writing career as a poet but switched to mystery writing because her poems were always filled with mysterious strangers, murders, and unexplained violence. She also won the “Best Poem” competition at the University of Iowa’s Poetry workshop on a bet by a friend.

In addition to 22 Jury novels, Grimes also has written nine other novels. The next novel she is planning will be in her Emma Graham series, a follow-up to Belle Ruin.

Grimes keeps her professional life in the family. Her only son, Kent Holland, also is her publicist. Married and divorced in the 1960s, she never remarried.

Outside of the United States, Grimes’ novels are most popular in Germany and also sell quite well in France. But Grimes said she has no idea why. “I really don’t know the answer, I wish I could,” she told me via e-mail.
Michael Koryta Is Young
Oline Cogdill
A few months ago, I was at a book signing for Robert Crais.

The audience was fairly mixed with men and woman, of all ages; fans who had come to hear Crais talk about Elvis Cole, Joe Pike and his latest novel, The First Rule.

But during the question and answer session, a man in his mid-thirties made a comment that almost got him thrown out of the bookstore.

“I didn’t expect to see all these old people here,” said the man who was clearly a fan. “I thought it would be more people my age and more guys. I always thought you wrote young.”

Crais does write young. And Elvis and Joe do appeal to a young audience. They also appeal to a middle-aged audience, retirees and, well, just about anyone who can read.

I bring up this age issue because it is a factor in the cover profile of Michael Koryta in the latest Mystery Scene, No. 115. Kevin Burton Smith captures Koryta so well.

At age 27, Koryta is among the youngest of crime fiction authors. That he started his career at age 21 with the excellent Tonight I Said Goodbye is pretty amazing.

Yeah, he’s a whiz kid, all right.

But more importantly, he is an excellent writer. And the only reason his age should made a difference or even be a factor is it means that readers will have more years of enjoyment from his novels.

We’ve already had a good taste of Koryta’s talent. His stand-alone novel Envy the Night won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. (Full disclosure, I was one of the judges that year.)

One of the constants about crime fiction is that age, sex, race, sexual orientation and locale matter little to readers.

What crime fiction readers care about – and all they should care about – is if the story grabs them, if the characters are believable, the action realistic or, if it’s not realistic, at least makes them want to go along for the ride.

Mystery readers are sophisticated and are willing to follow an author just about anywhere if the story is worth it.

Sure, Koryta is young.

But he isn’t the only author to start early and continue to write intriguing crime fiction.

Greg Rucka was 27 when Finder was published. Dennis Lehane was 29 when A Drink Before the War came out. Tom Rob Smith was 29 when Child 44 was published.

Michael Connelly was 35 when Black Echo hit the stores, the same age as Dashiell Hammett when Red Harvest was published.

And Lawrence Block was just 23 when his first novel was published; by the time his first Matthew Scudder novel, The Sins of the Fathers, came in 1976, Block was 38 years old.

Good storytelling is ageless.
Admin
2010-07-02 12:16:25
A few months ago, I was at a book signing for Robert Crais.

The audience was fairly mixed with men and woman, of all ages; fans who had come to hear Crais talk about Elvis Cole, Joe Pike and his latest novel, The First Rule.

But during the question and answer session, a man in his mid-thirties made a comment that almost got him thrown out of the bookstore.

“I didn’t expect to see all these old people here,” said the man who was clearly a fan. “I thought it would be more people my age and more guys. I always thought you wrote young.”

Crais does write young. And Elvis and Joe do appeal to a young audience. They also appeal to a middle-aged audience, retirees and, well, just about anyone who can read.

I bring up this age issue because it is a factor in the cover profile of Michael Koryta in the latest Mystery Scene, No. 115. Kevin Burton Smith captures Koryta so well.

At age 27, Koryta is among the youngest of crime fiction authors. That he started his career at age 21 with the excellent Tonight I Said Goodbye is pretty amazing.

Yeah, he’s a whiz kid, all right.

But more importantly, he is an excellent writer. And the only reason his age should made a difference or even be a factor is it means that readers will have more years of enjoyment from his novels.

We’ve already had a good taste of Koryta’s talent. His stand-alone novel Envy the Night won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. (Full disclosure, I was one of the judges that year.)

One of the constants about crime fiction is that age, sex, race, sexual orientation and locale matter little to readers.

What crime fiction readers care about – and all they should care about – is if the story grabs them, if the characters are believable, the action realistic or, if it’s not realistic, at least makes them want to go along for the ride.

Mystery readers are sophisticated and are willing to follow an author just about anywhere if the story is worth it.

Sure, Koryta is young.

But he isn’t the only author to start early and continue to write intriguing crime fiction.

Greg Rucka was 27 when Finder was published. Dennis Lehane was 29 when A Drink Before the War came out. Tom Rob Smith was 29 when Child 44 was published.

Michael Connelly was 35 when Black Echo hit the stores, the same age as Dashiell Hammett when Red Harvest was published.

And Lawrence Block was just 23 when his first novel was published; by the time his first Matthew Scudder novel, The Sins of the Fathers, came in 1976, Block was 38 years old.

Good storytelling is ageless.
On Screen: the Girl Who Played With Fire
Oline Cogdill

girlwhoplayedwithfire05Noomi Rapace plays series protagonist Lisbeth Salander.

Think of the movie version of The Girl Who Played With Fire as the Cliff’s Notes version of the late Stieg Larsson’s second novel. But unlike the Cliff’s Notes guides that seldom get to the heart of a novel, this movie pretty much includes all you need to know about Larsson’s sprawling novel. The character nuances, the plot twists, and the vivid setting show up on film.

No, it doesn’t take the place of reading the novel. But the movie will let those who have never read the books know why it seems as if everyone you see is carrying a Larsson novel. For those of us who read and loved the novels, this second film complements the books.

The Girl Who Played With Fire continues the story of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and the brilliant, goth girl hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). Blomkvist’s magazine, Millennium, is working with a young journalist and a criminologist on a story about the sex-trafficking trade in Sweden. Through their research, the two have discovered that the ring includes some of Sweden’s highest ranked politicians, cops and law makers.

The pair are murdered and a gun containing Lisbeth’s fingerprints is found. That same weapon is linked to a third death. Lisbeth becomes Sweden’s most wanted fugitive. The police convinced of her guilt because of her violent background that has been well documented by the courts. Blomkvist is equally convinced of her innocence. Lisbeth may be violent, antisocial and hard to read. But, he knows that men who abuse women would be her target, not a journalist and criminologist working to expose sex traffickers. Although she dropped him from her life without reason and has refused all contact, Blomkvist remains loyal to Lisbeth. Separately, Blomkvist and Lizbeth work to prove her innocence and find the real killer.

girlwhoplayedwithfire06Millenium editor-in-chief Mikael Blomkvist played by Michael Nyqvist.

The film moves briskly without the sometimes bloated scenes of the novel. While Larsson’s novel was, at times, sprawling, to say the least, the movie is a lean, tightly focused action film.

Many reviewers have commented on how the Larsson’s first novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, worked as a locked room mystery; this section as a private detective novel and the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, as a spy thriller. The movie certainly concentrates on The Girl Who Played With Fire’s private detective elements. It is not necessary to have read the novel to follow the film. The friend who accompanied me had not read any of the novels – though she is now starting on the first—and was able to follow the story. Although there are a couple of variations from the novel—and NO spoilers here—the movie is faithful to the story.

What’s left out of the movie is what should have have been left out of the book. The long opening that takes place in the Caribbean here is a scene of Lisbeth packing with the gorgeous Atlantic Ocean in the background. Instead of a long shopping trip, we just see Lisbeth putting together a chair from Ikea. And there was no way to work in her fascination with a mathematician. A few other plot points also missing from the film were wise choices by the filmmakers.

Noomi Rapace continues to enthrall as Lisbeth, showing every bit of the hacker’s strength, vulnerability, intelligence, naivete, rage, her moral fiber and a chameleon’s ability to adapt. Lisbeth is a survivor and, as she did in the first movie, Rapace understands this character’s complexity.

Michael Nyqvist is Rapace’s equal. His quest for the truth is unwavering as are his compassion and kindness. His hurt and confusion after Lisbeth abandoned him is palpable, but it will not stop him from helping her. (Another female reviewer and I were talking after and we both agreed that for some reason Michael Nyqvist is much sexier in a rugged way in this movie than in the first. And, no, that photo above doesn’t do him justice.)

The Girl Who Played With Fire movie is a perfect complement to the novels. Now, I’m looking forward to the third movie, which is scheduled to be released later this year.

girlwhoplayedwithfire07

The Girl Who Played With Fire: Rated R; 129 minutes. Subtitles. It begins a wide release around the country on July 9, 2010.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-09 11:57:23

girlwhoplayedwithfire01aThe much-anticipated second film based on Swedish author Stieg Larsson's Millenium series is here.

Sunday July 11: Live Twitter of Hercule Poirot Murder on the Orient Express

poirot_pbstwitter

All Aboard!

Hercule Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express
Sunday, July 11, on PBS

Join Mystery Scene for a special Twitter event
hosted by MASTERPIECE Mystery!
Sunday, July 11, 9-11 p.m. EST

Tag your posts with the hashtag #mystery_pbs
and then visit PBS' discussion on TweetGrid, or use your own favorite aggregator.

twitter_icon

Teri Duerr
2010-07-09 13:02:10

poirot_pbstwitter

Join Mystery Scene for a special Twitter event hosted by MASTERPIECE Mystery! (Sunday, July 11, 9-11 p.m. EST)

Do the Right Thing: Harper Lee and to Kill a Mockingbird
Art Taylor

lee_farris_harperlee_tokillamockingbirdFifty years after its publication, Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of racial injustice in a small Southern town ranks as one of the most beloved books in American literature.

(This article first appeared in MS Issue #101, Fall 2007.)

Harper Lee published only one novel in her lifetime, but nearly a half-century after its initial publication, To Kill A Mockingbird stands as one of the best-loved works in all of American literature. The story, which originally touched sensitive chords in America's unfolding Civil Rights drama, still reverberates today in the national psyche: a white woman's false accusation of rape against a black man in small-town Alabama; countrymen up in arms and ready not just to convict but to kill the accused; a tense trial whose evidence, examinations and cross-examinations send shockwaves through the whole community. The entire town and now several generations of readers waited for justice to be served or denied.

Contributing greatly to our experience of this Depression-era tale is the novel's young narrator, Scout Finch. Only six years old as the novel begins, Scout sees the world around her with fresh, innocent eyes, and she presents that world through vivid images which underscore both the idylls and the idiosyncrasies of small-town Southern life:


Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.

tokillamockingbird_scoutEmbedded in such descriptions, of course, are the inklings of darker tidings the sense of poverty and isolationism; languor perched on the edge of exhaustion and loneliness; the implicit knowledge that there is indeed much to fear beyond fear itself, even in such a simple spot.

If the town is perched precariously on the edge of something darker, with Scout as firsthand witness, she too stands on the verge of transition. Joined by her older brother Jem and a young boy named Dill, she embarks on a series of typical childhood adventures many of them centered on an enigmatic house just down the street. Spurred on by feelings of curiosity and fear about Boo Radley, the malevolent phantom who lives there, the young trio tries to lure him out with hair-raising (and pants-ripping!) results but Scout's adventures there serve as one part of a dramatic coming-of-age, as her relationship to Radley, a man she s never met, takes on a depth and tenderness that the two boys don' t readily experience.

In the meantime, Scout also sees and experiences what happens to her father, Atticus, when he takes up the case of Tom Robinson, the Negro accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman in town. Schoolyard taunts first draw Scout into the case, but her involvement hardly stops there. Atticus the epitome of a Southern gentleman (and a sharp shot with a rifle) stands as the wise and moral center of the unfolding court drama; as an article in The Companion to Southern Literature describes him: Among the patrician lawyers in Southern fiction who confront the South's racial dilemma, he is the most courageous and the most admirable. But Scout again plays a more pivotal and urgent role. Readers of the book and fans of the film adaptation will recall fondly the scene where Scout almost single-handedly, if unwittingly, turns back an angry lynch mob; the later scenes where she stares down with curiosity, awe and admiration at the court proceedings from the upstairs section of the courtroom, the Colored balcony; and her targeting by a revenge-minded Bob Ewell, Mayella's father, toward the book's end. It's in these moments that Scout serves as our guide to not only the unfolding community crisis but also to the entire social, racial and moral landscape of the Deep South in the 1930s.

lee_harper2The Woman Behind the Novel

What is the relationship between Scout Finch and Harper Lee herself?

Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. Monroeville, where she lives today, almost unquestionably served as the basis for the fictional Maycomb. Lee's own childhood also overlaps with the 1930s time period during which her novel is set. Lee's father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was a lawyer working in Monroeville--a devoted citizen and a man of high integrity--and he reportedly served as the basis for Atticus Finch, though the character's surname was in fact drawn from Lee' s mother, Frances Cunningham Finch Lee.

Many scholars have traced To Kill A Mockingbird's roots back to the Scottsboro Trial--an early 1930s case in which nine black boys were charged with raping two white women on a train en route to Alabama--pointing to the fact that Lee herself was about Scout's age as the crime and court drama played themselves out in her native state. But in his recent book Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, Charles Shields details the events of yet another trial even closer to Lee' s Monroeville, in which a white woman named Naomi Lowery accused Walter Letts, a black man, of rape, drawing even more parallels between fictional Maycomb and Lee's real-life hometown.

In addition to being highly recommended to fans of To Kill A Mockingbird seeking insight into Lee's life, Shields' book will also interest readers wanting to know more about her lifelong friendship with another writer who spent part of his childhood in Monroeville: Truman Capote, who is famously the basis for the character of Dill. Just as Capote spent time on extended visits with elderly relatives in Alabama, so too did Dill spend summers in Maycomb with his aunt, Miss Rachel, and readers might find themselves glimpsing the adult Capote in the novel's descriptions of Dill:

Dill was a curiosity. He wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt, his hair was snow-white and stuck to his head like duck-fluff; he was a year my senior but I towered over him. As he told us the old tale [of Dracula] his blue eyes would lighten and darken; his laugh was sudden and happy; he habitually pulled at a cowlick in the center of his forehead.

capote_incoldblood(Interestingly, just as Lee used Capote as the inspiration for Dill, so too had Capote drawn on Lee for one of the characters in his own debut novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms. Later, during the time just before and just after the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird, Lee worked closely with Capote on research for his own crime-based book, In Cold Blood, helping tone down the flamboyant writer's entrance into rural Kansas, assisting with interviews with authorities and others, and even helping with the writing itself. The sometimes difficult working relationship between the two during this time period is explored in Shields' biography and also in two recent films: Capote (2005), with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role and Catherine Keener as Lee, and Infamous (2006), with Toby Jones and Sandra Bullock.

As a young woman, Lee didn't start her literary career immediately, but instead set out to follow in her father's footsteps with a career in law. She attended Huntington College and the University of Alabama and even studied abroad at Oxford University, but left the university setting before earning her degree. Deciding on a writer's life, she headed off to New York to hone her craft. She worked as an airline reservations clerk first and then relied on the financial support of friends as she wrote the short stories that, with the help of editors at Lippincott, would eventually coalesce into her debut novel.

And what an enviable debut it was.

capote_leeandcapotestill
Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) and Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in Capote (2005) by director Bennett Miller.



tokillamockingbird_poster01Success Then and Now

To Kill A Mockingbird found almost immediate popularity after its publication in July 1960. The book was chosen by both the Literary Guild and the Book-of-the-Month Club and by the Reader's Digest for their condensed book series. It was soon at the top of both the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times bestseller lists, ultimately spending nearly two years on that latter. Within its first year of publication, the book had sold a half-million copies and been translated into 10 languages.

To Kill a Mockingbird's popularity was matched by critical acclaim. The New York Times review on the eve of the book's publication praised Lee for her gentle affection, rich humor and deep understanding of small-town family life in Alabama, and a Chicago Tribune article was titled Engrossing First Novel of Rare Excellence. Though many reviews were mixed, the novel was crowned with a place in the critical pantheon within a year: In May 1961, To Kill A Mockingbird was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

By this time, efforts were already underway to adapt the book into a motion picture. In fact, the closing words of the New York Times review predicted not only a film treatment but also the as-yet-unmade movie's ultimate success: some of the scenes suggest that Miss Lee is cocking at least one eye toward Hollywood. Moviegoing readers will be able to cast most of the roles very quickly, but it is no disparagement of Miss Lee's winning book to say that it could be the basis of an excellent film.

Such a prediction was understated at best. Directed by Robert Mulligan from a screenplay by Horton Foote (Lee herself said that the script should be studied as a classic ), To Kill A Mockingbird the film boasted an excellent cast, with Gregory Peck in the lead role as Atticus Finch, Mary Badham (a young girl with no acting experience) as Scout, Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, and a young Robert Duvall in his big screen debut as Boo Radley. In early 1963, the film opened to enthusiastic audiences, with huge crowds marking both the New York and the Alabama premieres. All hands involved are to be congratulated for a job well done, wrote Variety. "Obviously loving care went into the process by which it was converted from the comprehensive prose of the printed page to the visual and dramatic storytelling essence of the screen.... As it unfolds on the screen, To Kill A Mockingbird bears with it, oddly enough, alternating overtones of Faulkner, Twain, Steinbeck, Hitchcock and an Our Gang comedy."

The film was soon nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Badham (at that time the youngest nominee ever for that category); and Best Actor. It ultimately won three awards: for its art and set direction, for Horton Foote's screenplay, and for Peck' s portrayal of Atticus Finch. The actor wore to the ceremony a gift from Harper Lee herself a pocket watch that had belonged to her own father which she'd given Peck for good luck.

Since its publication, the book has sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide becoming one of the most successful novels in publishing history and has now been translated into more than 40 languages. A staple of high school and college reading lists, it ranked fourth in a Fall 1991 survey on " Books that Made A Difference in Reader's Lives," conducted by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress.

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Mary Badham as Scout, Phillip Alford as Jem, and John Megna as Dill in the classic 1962 film directed by Robert Mulligan with a screenplay adaptation by Horton Foote.

Librarians across the country voted it the Best Novel of the Century in a 1999 poll conducted by Library Journal. The National Endowment of the Arts named it one of their four "Big Reads" during an initiative launched in 2005 to encourage "communities to come together to read and discuss one book" an honor that only made official what was already happening in nationwide community-based reading projects where the book had always been a popular choice.

Since 2001, the University of Alabama has hosted a popular essay contest in which Alabama high school students explore new perspectives on the novel. It speaks volumes about the notoriously private author who has been known to reply "Not just no, but hell no" to requests for interviews that she has yet to miss the annual luncheon honoring the winners from each school district.

The film likewise continues to boast devoted fans and new honors. In the most recent polls by the American Film Institute, To Kill A Mockingbird was ranked #25 on the list of Greatest American Films of all time and #2 on the list of Most Inspiring Movies (just behind It's a Wonderful Life). And Atticus Finch still stands today as a marker of all that is good and right with the world; in a related ranking by the AFI, Gregory Peck's portrayal earned the honor as "Greatest Hero in 100 Years of Film History."

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Courtroom scene from the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, "Greatest Hero in 100 Years of Film History."

A Classic's Enduring Appeal

Why do readers continue to be enthralled, entertained and moved by To Kill A Mockingbird? To a great degree, the novel's success rests on our sense of outrage at the false accusation of a good man, our desire to see justice prevail over bias and hatred, our empathy with Scout, the young white girl peering down from the Colored Balcony, and our admiration for that brave and often besieged man in the courtroom below, Atticus Finch, after the jury returns its verdict of....

But that would be spoiling the mystery for anyone who hasn't read the book yet, wouldn't it? Suffice it to say that few readers are unmoved by the moment in both book and film when Atticus exits the courtroom at trial's end, when all those men and women relegated to that upper balcony rise to their feet, and Reverend Sykes tells young Scout, as if through the haze of a dream, "Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'."

civil_rights_march" I bawled when Scout was told to stand up, when all the black people stood up as Atticus Finch left the courtroom," said Margaret Maron, whose Hard Row is the 13th in the Deborah Knott series about a North Carolina attorney. Though Maron had seen the movie, she had never read the book until after she'd written Bootlegger's Daughter and a reviewer had commented that Deborah was Scout all growed up.

" I'm sure I would have loved the book even if I'd read it before seeing the movie, but to read it with the image of Gregory Peck in my head as Atticus was an extra bonus," said Maron. "The book itself was so honest and touched so many chords in me that I was glad I hadn't read it until after I'd created Deborah's world. Otherwise I would have felt both intimidation and a fear that I was treading in Harper Lee's vineyard."

"Harper Lee created a world at once particular and universal," said Carolyn Hart, whose latest book is Set Sail for Murder. "We know Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus, Cal, Boo, the Ewells, and all the others, good and bad, kind and ugly, brave and frightened. We know them as part of our lives."

Calling To Kill A Mockingbird " a perfect book," Hart pointed out that Scout reflect the wondering child and knowing adult in all of us. Between innocence and knowledge, To Kill A Mockingbird explores the desperate struggle to make connections between souls. That interplay between innocence and knowledge may be the key to the book's lasting popular appeal and its favored spot on the canon of most-taught books.

" To Kill A Mockingbird could have bombed at the time on the issue of race," said Lucinda MacKethan, a Southern literature professor at North Carolina State University and co-editor of The Companion to Southern Literature. "The White South was still benighted in its outlook on race when the book came out, and Lee's honest, sympathetic treatment of this one area could have made the novel less popular. But the one thing she did to make her angle very different, and not just judgmental, right off the bat, was to make this a story of coming-of-age the confrontation of innocence with experience, which is the universal story. To Kill A Mockingbird starts out to be about family, and the continuing success of the book is the relationship between those two children and between Scout and her father. In the end, Scout is protected from elemental evil, but that doesn't save her from learning something in the process."

tokillamockingbird_leeandscout

Harper Lee and Mary Badham on the set of To Kill a Mockingbird.

As Scout learns something about her community and herself, so too have readers found their own eyes and hearts opened, their own perspectives irrevocably broadened. Almost 50 years have passed since the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird, almost 80 since the events depicted in the book, and the South is no longer the place that Lee described so vividly and to such visceral effect. But if there s been change in the region over the years, the book still serves as an eternal window into a pivotal era in our nation's history, and more than that, as a profound, almost mythic story of good and evil: universal, as Hart emphasized, and moral at its core. And that keen morality and seriousness of purpose have made To Kill A Mockingbird a model for what the modern novel can accomplish.

"All contemporary writers of mystery who would claim for their fiction that it is art, owe homage to Harper Lee," said Michael Malone, author of Time's Witness and First Lady, among others. "Especially Southern writers owe her a debt so large, so lasting, that every novel we write is, in a sense, a token of our gratitude. It was through To Kill A Mockingbird, far more immediately even than through the works of Faulkner, that we learned how Southern literature in a line straight from Huckleberry Finn to Scout Finch has taken its place at the heart of all our nation's literature. Our greatest novels, she taught us, and showed us, may be Southern, may be mysteries. These novels look intimately at our heart of darkness, at race relations in this country, and their heroes like Huck Finn, like Scout Finch and her father Atticus need be no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of what is right and true. This magnificent stand, made immortal by art, is Harper Lee's legacy to us."

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Teri Duerr
2010-07-10 12:09:00

lee_tokillamockingbirdFifty years later, Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel remains one of America's most beloved books.

The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree
Jackie Houchin

Susan Wittig Albert's new cozy mystery series set in the fictional town of Darling, Alabama during the Great Depression, features a delightful group of garden club ladies who call themselves the Darling Dahlias. Modest and respectable they may be, but their curiosity and observation skills rival Miss Marple's.

Until a recently deceased member bequeaths her family home (with two blooming cucumber trees and a resident ghost) to them as a clubhouse, all the Dahlias are concerned about is propagation and plant sales. But a series of worrisome events soon changes their agenda.

First an escaped convict eludes the police. Then the body of an ambitious young beauty known personally by many of the Dahlias turns up in a stolen car at the bottom of a ravine. But when one of their own is accused of a crime, they can no longer sit idle.

Using telephone party lines and the local beauty salon as a center of operations, the officers of the Darling Dahlias Garden Club turn their minds to sleuthing. As they dig out each clue, a pattern emerges and everything points to one dastardly villain. But will the Sheriff listen to a gaggle of gardening ladies and make an arrest?

Thanks to Albert's extensive historical research, the book is rich in the ambiance of the era. Chatty in style, with a half-dozen intriguing subplots, the book begs readers to nestle down in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea (What else?) and become a Darling Dahlia sleuth.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-12 17:10:14

albert_darlingdahliascucumbertreeA delightful new Depression-era series from the author of the China Bayles mysteries.

The Whisperers
Betty Webb

An Iraq War vet’s post-traumatic stress syndrome and his home front suicide make Connolly’s new thriller timely, while its theme of retribution remains as timeless as evil itself. The action begins in Iraq during the US invasion, as a desperate Baghdad museum curator attempts to keep his priceless artifacts from being looted. Unfortunately, he doesn’t succeed. One of those artifacts—a tarnished box seemingly of little consequence—holds ancient spirits that wreak havoc whenever they are disturbed.

Theft accomplished, we then travel stateside to Maine, where the grieving father of an Iraqi War veteran suicide hires PI Charlie Parker to find out exactly why his son was so disturbed. Parker’s investigation pits him against an art collector named Herod, a grotesque murderer almost as memorable as Hannibal Lecter. But Herod isn’t the book’s only villain. Midway through Parker’s investigation, he runs afoul of a group of rogue vets willing to kill to protect their secrets. In a disturbingly graphic scene, they waterboard Parker. This gives Connolly, an extraordinarily gifted writer, the chance to give us an up front, close, and personal demonstration of what it feels like to drown.

The author, a resident of Dublin, writes with the lyrical grace we’ve come to expect from Irish writers as he explores both modern and ancient horrors. His characters—especially Parker—are painted so realistically that they could be our very own dinner guests. In the case of the über-creepy Herod, though, Connolly’s skill leads to terrifying moments. A great read for dark and stormy nights, The Whisperers should nonetheless come with a label warning: Do not read at bedtime.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-12 17:31:54

connolly_whisperersA timely new thriller about post-traumatic stress syndrome, morality, and retribution.

Queen of the Night
Betty Webb

J.A. Jance’s fourth suspense novel, featuring detective Brad Walker and his wife Diana Ladd Walker, reunites Anglo and Tohono O’odham Indian characters who are linked by past tragedies. Beginning with a man's senseless slaughter of his wife and children in California, the book moves into the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, where he continues his rampage. In short order, he takes out his estranged mother and stepfather, along with two innocent Indians who happen upon the bloodbath. Once the murderer, Jonathan Southard, has discovered how satisfying murder can be, he decides to add a few more names to his target list.

Jance’s Byzantine plot spanning several decades and characters harkens back to her earlier thrillers—Hour of the Hunter, Kiss of the Bees, Day of the Dead—and readers unacquainted with them may experience some difficulty connecting the book's relationships. But the confusion won’t last long. Soon we are swept up in the lives of Iraq War veteran Dan Pardee, a half-Apache “Shadow Wolf” attached to the Border Patrol; his dog Bozo (also an Iraq War vet); Brian Fellows, a homicide cop determined to bring Southard to justice; and Brad and Diana (the latter a writer loosely based on Jance herself).

Holding these seemingly disparate threads together are gripping Tohono O’odham legends of the Old Times and the ancestors whose spirits still hover protectively over the desert. But the real star of the book is the titular night-blooming cactus flower, which has the ability to attract great good as well as great sorrow. This beautifully layered, deeply felt novel is certain to delight Jance’s many loyal fans and earn her many new ones.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-12 17:48:47

jance_queenofthenightJ.A. Jance’s beautifully layered suspense novel, featuring detective Brad Walker and his novelist wife Diana Ladd Walker, is certain to delight Jance’s many loyal fans.

Damaged
Charles L.P. Silet

This is the seventh Maggie O’Dell novel and author Kava has by now well established her FBI profiler, a woman haunted by ghosts from the “leaky compartments in her subconscious.” Maggie's newest case begins when Coast guard rescue swimmer Liz Bailey discovers a fish locker stuffed full—but not with fish—off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. Criminal profiler Maggie is sent to look into the mysterious contents of that fish locker and is soon looking into the macabre business of buying and selling human body parts.

Meanwhile, Colonel Benjamin Platt, Maggie’s on-again, off-again significant other, is sent to the military base at Pensacola to examine the mysterious deaths of some returning wounded soldiers from Afghanistan who seem to have contracted an undetected post-operative disease. Their two investigations converge against the background of an approaching hurricane, Isaac, which is headed directly for the Florida Panhandle.

The professionally adept, but psychologically damaged Maggie suffers from insomnia, and the state of her sleepless mind works as a trope for the mounting disorientation and chaos of the violent storm. Kava is especially skilled at using the growing presence of the hurricane to ramp up the tension without letting it take over the fiction until the very end. By the novel's conclusion Kava brings together in intriguing ways the various story lines, and skillfully develops the intersecting elements of her plot and the force of the storm into a first-rate thriller.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-12 17:51:53

kava_damagedFBI special agent Maggie O'Dell is back in Kava's seventh installment of this first-rate thriller series set in the Florida Panhandle.

The Grave Gourmet
Lynne Maxwell

Lt. Capucine LeTellier, protagonist of Alexander Campion’s promising lighthearted new series, is unhappily employed by the Police Judiciare in Paris as an investigator of white-collar crime. Eager to escape her tedious job monitoring accounting fraud, she longs to participate in criminal investigations instead. So when a body is discovered in the cooler of a prominent Paris restaurant, she seizes her career advancement opportunity with a little help and a good word from a politically connected cousin. More significant, though, is the fact that her husband, Alexandre, is a preeminent restaurant critic who is fortuitously acquainted with the hapless restaurant owner. Capucine, of course, gets the job and all of the attendant headaches, such as proving herself to her male subordinates. Surprisingly, the investigation takes a plunge into corporate crime when it turns out that the murder may have something to do with the victim's job as an executive for the French automaker Renault. Campion’s plot becomes more intricate as the mystery unfolds, and readers will be surprised at the unexpected directions it takes.

What differentiates The Grave Gourmet from other corporate espionage and many police procedural novels is its lighthearted tone and its exploration of gourmet restaurants and meals. Capucine’s husband’s status as restaurant critic provides ready entrance to every sort of Parisian restaurant, and Campion capitalizes upon this plot device to offer descriptions of fabulous gourmet meals (admittedly too rich for my taste, but perhaps not for yours). I’ll bet that you haven’t seen so much food since the last Donna Leon mystery. Certainly, The Grave Gourmet will leave you hungry for the next Capucine Culinary Mystery.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-12 18:43:19

campion_gravegourmetUnexpected plot turns and mouthwatering gourmet meals mark this new French culinary mystery series.

Hot Shot
Daniel Luft

Gary Ruffin’s debut novel is overstuffed with cops, mobsters, prostitutes, assassins, torturers, lounge singers, and murder victims but is redeemed by the voice of its narrator Samuel “Coop” Cooper. Coop is a small-town police chief whose drunken day off is interrupted when a Louisiana Senator’s daughter is found dead on the beach of his small town in Florida. The FBI arrives at the scene and Coop is happy to relinquish his case to the feds except that the agent in charge of the investigation is a leggy blonde named Shelly Brooke who piques Coop’s interest.

Most of the book takes place in New Orleans as Coop, Brooke, and Coop’s friend, local homicide detective Neal Feagin, uncover the Senator’s dirty dealings with prostitutes, gambling, and the local Mafia. Throughout the book, Coop’s narration holds the story together. He’s hard-drinking, graying, lazy, party-loving, flirtatious, and an adept and humorous storyteller.

The problem is that Coop’s voice is interrupted by third-person narration that intrudes at increasing levels throughout the novel and threatens to steal the story away from the police chief by the end. This part of the book is the story of the mobsters attached to the Senator; they are thinly drawn characters who speak largely in Mafioso clichés and add very little to the story. There are also overlong back stories to too many minor characters that really don’t need to be told.

By the end of the book Coop and detective Feagin begin mulling over how they might want to both retire and become private detectives together. A great concept, but if it happens, hopefully the author will let Coop tell that story in its entirety.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-12 18:53:58

A debut novel featuring hard-drinking and humorous PI "Coop."

Message Left on Jim Rockford's Answering Machine, "the Hammer of C Block"
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:27:33

"It's Jack. The check is in the mail. Sorry it's two years late. Sorry I misfigured my checking account and I'm overdrawn. Sorry I stopped payment on it. So, when it comes, tear it up. Sorry."

—message left on Jim Rockford's answering machine, "The Hammer Of C Block," episode by Gordon Dawson, 1976, The Rockford Files

Myron Bolitar, Deal Breaker
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:31:09

"Nick at Nite: The cultural equivalent of aerosol cheese."

—Myron Bolitar, Deal Breaker, 1995, by Harlan Coben

Carey Thorpe, Enough
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:36:53

"Well, she was dead and there was no use crying over spilt milk."

—Carey Thorpe, Enough, 1977, by Donald E. Westlake

Dr. Watson on Irene Adler, "a Scandal in Bohemia,"
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:37:36

"To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman."

—Dr. Watson commenting on Irene Adler, in "A Scandal in Bohemia," The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1892, by Arthur Conan Doyle

Alex Tabor, Miss Melville's Revenge
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:39:29

"I'm never going to take you to a party again, Susan,"Alex Tabor said,"if you're going to go around killing the guests."

—Alex Tabor to Susan Melville, Miss Melville's Revenge, 1989, by Evelyn E. Smith

Sir Roger Shallot, the Poisoned Chalice
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:40:39

"If Murder is Satan's eldest son then Poison, Queen of the Night, is his favourite daughter."

—Sir Roger Shallot, The Poisoned Chalice, 1992, by Michael Clynes